What Children Have Taught Me About Writing

My New Year’s Blog Resolution This year the focus of this blog from now on will be WRITING for both adults and children. It will be aimed at writers of all kinds and all ages – new, old, experienced, just starting out. Those interested in getting published and those hoping to stay published!

It will also cover marketing and promoting your book, author interviews, book trade interviews and reviews. When I work out how to do it, I will a/ come up with a good name for the blog – it is currently The Launch Lizard but as there are less and less of these happening it is due for a change and b/ when I can nab my lovely webguy and get him to change it, along with a lot of other website updates – note to self - must find time, must make time, must get on with it!

This is the first blog of 2011 – so Happy New Year and I hope 2011 is a good writing one for you all. If anyone is interested in guest blogging, do let me know. Laura C? Claire? David M? Luisa? I know you’re out there, you can run but you can’t hide!

If you like this blog, please tell your friends about it. It will also be posted on my Facebook page and Twitter page. Yes, I’m attempting to Twitter this year as I have adult readers and I’m told by David Maybury (www.davidmaybury.com) that I must!

So to: What Children (and Young Teens) Have Taught Me About Writing

As always I must prefix the following post by saying I write popular fiction, and proud of it. For all ages - young and young at heart. But most of this relates to all kinds of writing (but maybe not poetry!).

I met over 3,000 young readers in 2010 and this is what I found out:

1/ The importance of character over plot If I wrote crime fiction or thrillers this might not be the case - but it’s what all young readers remember most about a book – the characters. Make them memorable Make them realistic Make them BIG and have BIG problems My new adult novel (not out until 2012 – sorry, it took a lot of thinking and work!) has some huge but realistic characters. The main character, Julia, is hard work in the ‘If you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure don’t deserve me at my best’ mode.

2/ The importance of getting to the point – quickly No waffling around No over long descriptions No sub plots that go nowhere fast and detract from the main story Story, story, story – and no getting distracted

3/ The importance of using words readers can understand and relate to Yes, be clever with language Yes, of course stretch your readers a bit by using unusual words in the right context so they can work out the meaning Yes, be creative with your descriptions But don’t alienate the reader by using a big, complex word when a simple one will do Even in books for ‘big’ people!

4/ The importance of making your dialogue sing Children like dialogue – when it’s realistic and funny and fast and snappy They hate boring, pointless dialogue – don’t we all?!

5/ Make it FUNNY Number one thing young readers love is funny – a good old belly laugh.

6/ Make it SAD They also love sad (esp the girls) Who knew? Young readers like a good cry just as much as older readers. Don’t be afraid of strong using strong emotions.

7/ The importance of having something to say Sounds simple – well it’s not. Young readers are pretty sophisticated. They pick up on themes, mood, atmosphere pretty quickly. Use this.

8/ Make every word count Children’s books (the Amy Green kind) are 30k to 50k long. There’s no room for messing about. If you’re not sure of a scene, cut it. Cut, cut, cut! If a book works without a scene, it shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

9/ Boring is bad, exciting is good Claudia Carroll’s first commandment of popular fiction holds true for all ages: Thou Shalt Not Bore!

10/ The opening is VITAL If a young reader doesn’t like the first page, she or he won’t read on. Simple as that. They don’t care that their parent has spent good money on a book. They don’t care how many awards the book has won. They have better things to be doing with their time, than reading a sub standard book. Don’t lose your reader on the first page!

11/ Young readers are very loyal and love revisiting characters For young readers, characters are friends. And they love revisiting friends. Which is why they love series. Adults aren’t all that different – look at Marple, Scarpetta (when she was good!), Harry Potter, the Shopaholic books. Maybe adult writers should write more series too! Funnily enough my new adult books are in a series – fancy that – The Shoestring Club, The Shoestring Proposal. And if they do well, there may very well be more Shoestrings in the pipeline. Who knows?!

12/ They love meeting or connecting with the people who write the books they love – that would be me and maybe you (if you’re also a writer). In fact they expect to be able to contact writers, plain and simple and they take if quite personally if you don’t write back. I’ve been told exactly who does and doesn’t write back to readers, folks – the children and teens love telling me this - but no, I’m not going to out them. So be a non-replier at your peril!!! There is no excuse not to have a Facebook page, blog, website, Twitter account (for adult authors – children and teens don’t get Twitter) and to connect with your readers. Besides, it’s fun. And great when you’re looking for a distraction or a water cooler moment when you’re supposed to be writing . . . ahem, that would be me! Better get back to my Amy Green 4 edits . . .

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX